THE MEANING OF SUCCESS.

The word success is almost impossible to define, as it means something different to just about everyone. It’s much too large than a single word can contain,  because it’s a concept. A floating concept that bends and morphs and matures as we do. What we think it means at the beginning of our journey, may be vastly different to what it means at the end. It’s a dream that, once it’s seemingly fulfilled, may be considered a burden. A curse. A prison cell. A nightmare.

Perhaps it’s God’s sneakiest joke on us all. Giving us what we think we want, in order to find out first hand how hollow it ultimately becomes. 

McCartney hit it on the head, simplifying it to “Can’t Buy Me Love.” A record we could dance to, even if the concept was way beyond our comprehension at the time. Perhaps Paul was starting to understand how restrictive a “successful” life can be.

One of the Ten Commandments states that “Thou Shalt Not Worship False Gods.”  I have interpreted that to include money = success. For I’ve seen first hand people worship it at the expense of their family, friends, colleagues, ethics, talent and own life.  Their “concept” of success was so delusional it eventually devalued every thing of true value in their life.

I was once privileged to have had a song of mine selected for inclusion on the Ferrets’ second album “Fame At Any Price.” I loved that album title then, as I love it now. It was prophetically apt for a band that self-combusted shortly after its release. Perhaps from the pressure of having to follow-up a Number One single and a Gold debut album “Dreams of a Love,” which incidentally also featured a song of mine entitled “Killing Ourselves.”  A lyric about the friends of mine who were falling in action during the Melbourne heroin epidemic of the Seventies. That song proved prophetic for the band too.

It’s one thing to crave success. It’s another to have the stomach for it. People take drugs like heroin to numb themselves to the world around them. Isn’t it bizarre that when many performers finally break through and achieve the success they’ve craved, they reach out to self-medicate themselves to…what? The pain of it? The disappointment that the concept of success was so much more thrilling than the reality? Or is it their fear that they, mere mortals, are suddenly treated like gods, and know they can’t sustain this facade for long without publicly falling? False prophets for a false society. 

It says a lot about our society that Elvis Presley, the most famous and desired man in the world, died of loneliness. Photographs of him towards the end show a man who is dull-eyed, self-medicated to the point of not knowing where he is, and clearly not having a good time. He even mocks himself in his final heartbreaking performances as if all his dignity is gone. Pity the man who inherits the world, but loses his soul?

We are fed the “Dream” to keep us productive, and striving day to night to achieve our goal, so we can be happy. But, what if, as Judy found out, there’s nothing at the end of the rainbow except burnt-out, broken, despairing suckers?

I always thought the rainbow ended on the corners of Hollywood Boulevard and Western. It almost did for me one night, but that’s another story. And there are millions of stories in the naked city.

My father worked his guts out from 6am until 5pm every day in a thankless job that paid him nowhere near his worth. Then he’d come home and drink. Do you blame him? I sure as hell didn’t. He dreamed of reaching retirement age and getting a big payout. He didn’t make it. In one of the final lines in Arthur Miller’s cathartic play Death of a Salesman, “…No one dast blame this man…He just had the wrong dreams. All wrong.”

How much of our lives are wasted chasing the wrong dreams? “When I get a nice new car I’ll be happy!”…”When I get married I’ll be happy!”…”When I get a nice house I’ll be happy!”…”When I have a child I’ll be happy!”…”When I get divorced I’ll be happy!”… “When I can retire and live as I want I’ll be happy!” etc., etc. The truth is, we’re not happy to begin with. One thing I’ve learnt from my own experience is that money and success won’t make you happy. In fact, they will just amplify the painful reality that you aren’t.  In order to enjoy money and success, you must be happy within yourself before you obtain them. Otherwise they are weights around your neck that’ll drag you down to the bottom of the ocean.

Bob Dylan once said that “a successful man is someone who gets up in the morning and goes to bed each night and in between does exactly what he wants.” So, there you have it. Real success is freedom. The freedom to be who you are, and do what you want to do.

I’ve always admired people who are good at what they do. That’s probably a working class respect I inherited from my parents who much admired skilled tradespeople.

America used to have a healthy competitive pride whereby whatever job you had, people wanted to be the best at it. Whether it was driving a cab, being a shoeshine boy, a bellboy, a clerk, a hot dog vendor, etc.

I’ve seen waiters in Los Angeles, old guys who had made a career of it, and they were perfection personified. It was riveting to observe their attention to detail, manners, diplomacy, professionalism, and so on. The top guys made a fortune in tips and deserved every dime. But more than the money, they prided themselves on being the best. Some, were legends. I was in awe of them and paid them great respect. 

So, what is success? Is it determined by money? Or by your ability? Or what others think of you? Or how loved you are by your family? Or how many people know your name? Or how many of your peers respect you? Or how fulfilled you are within yourself?

Because, if we don’t know the answer to that, it means most of us have been striving for something that is so elusive, it is even beyond us. And, if we don’t know what we’re seeking,  how can we expect to find it? Or ever be content?

I like to walk a lot and, when I do, observe people. You could say it’s part of my job. And in my journeys into the outside world, I have from time to time passed many happy people. The happy family man. The happy young girl walking hand-in-hand with her love. The happy little boy who puts his protective arm around his younger sister and smiles at her. The happy busker who has a captive audience and a hat full of money. The happy taxi driver who loves to chat with his passengers and treat each as a new friend. And so on. To me, all these types are successful people. In the truest sense of the word. They are happy within themselves and thus radiate happiness outward. They have not been shackled by expectations. Either of our own making, or of others. 

I have also seen and met some of the wealthiest, most powerful and famous people in the world whilst I lived in L.A, and quite a few were utterly miserable, and made everyone in their presence feel the same.

In the some of the final lines of the classic movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it is stated, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

I believe that. I have some very true, loyal friends. Their rock solid friendship make me feel successful, happy and content for having found them. No matter what I do professionally, or don’t do, or they do or don’t,  we have achieved something rare, precious and beautiful. Something real. 

 

(c) Frank Howson 2020

photograph by Vanessa Allan.

THE NEW VIRUS SPEAK.

Now is the hour of our incontinence made glory-holed by sons of Michael Yorke. “Bark” the Hells Angels sing. It is a Far East bitter thing I do now than I have ever dung. And on the bend the milk we shake is a quill to the love we break. Frankly, my deer, I don’t give a ram. And in the cruel, cruel, cruel of Jehovah, tell ‘em I’ll be bare. To flee or not to flee that is the equator. Four scored ears of men, our country assed us, “Do not ask what your country has done to you. Ask what you have done to your country.” And on the eighth day, God created mini-golf. These are a few of my Fahrenheit rings. Either this wallpaper blows or I do. “Right,” said Ted, are you having a larf?” At the third stroke, it will be a felony. Once I had a putrid glove. Love me Fender, love it tuned, all my screams are billed. When the goanna gets rough, get stuffed I’m goin’. Our father’s art is in heaven, Howard be thy blame. Twice upon a crime, a gem with windy hair lost her head in mime, and sad she loved me show. But that was ice above my lime, mammy months too low. Mammaries fight the confines of the blind. All clothed mystery mammaries of the day we stir. I luv you and dunce you regret it. It is the evening of the summer of the mourning that whence we came. The midget you fell through the floor, I could pee you were a mad ol’ distemper, a reel pig bender. I’m dreamin’ of a wide bagel, with hairy gals I sow. Fairy flossed da mercy. M-m-m-my Corona. Th-th-that’s Paul, yokes!

 

(c) Frank Howson 2020

WHO SAW HIM LAST?

These were the shoes he wore. Notice the soles are thin. He’d walked many miles in these trying to get ahead.

This was his favourite jacket. He felt wealthy when he wore it. Even though it had holes in the pockets.

This is the shirt he called his lucky one. He always wore it to important meetings and although nothing ever came of them he felt this shirt would bring him luck. Someday.

These were his favourite pants – he’d been married in them. Twice.

This was the hat he wore everyday. It shielded his head from the rain and the wind and the sun. And if he pulled the brim down, from everyone.

This is the map he lost just before he lost his way.

These are the tears he cried when he had nowhere to go.

This is the heart you broke and you didn’t even know.

These are your letters he kept when he believed in you.

This is the photo of his mother who thought he was precious.

Where are the friends he helped instead of helping himself?

This is his favourite song that he played every night.

This is the movie he said changed his life.

These are the books he loved now all packed away.

Who saw him last?

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE MISTS OF DAWN

Down here on this barren battleground
We have been issued no orders
We don’t even know who we are fighting anymore
Yesterday the fog was so thick
We mistakenly shot our own leader
And laid him to rest ‘neath a tree
Perhaps we should withdraw
Which is not a surrender
We mustn’t surrender
For there is too much to lose
But we’ve forgotten what
Send word back
That we have not thrown down our weapons
But we need back up
And supplies
It seems we have gone weeks without sleep
As we sit in the dark every night
Waiting for the enemy to attack
But they never come
This is a very sophisticated strategy
That we have not been briefed on
For our leader is dead
And his family have not received word
For they will only grieve
And too many tears have been shed
Too many hearts broken
Too many roads taken
Too many widows haunting us
In the mists of dawn
But we are holding our position
And ready for action
Eager to do him proud
To fight to the last man
We have burnt our white flags
So we wouldn’t be tempted
Our enemy has a lot to answer for
We just haven’t been informed of what
But we’ve been told to hate them
I wonder if they’re scared like us?
I wonder if they sleep?
I wonder if they just want to go home
Like we do?
I wonder if they’re still there?
Perhaps the war is over
I wonder who won?

(C) Frank Howson 2019

WHERE DID WE LEAVE THE STORY?

Where did we leave the story?
Oh, that’s right, you left me
Were we out of our minds
To ever think we’d be free?
What’s the name of that street?
No, wait, it’ll come to me
Did we throw away our good fortune
Whilst searching for destiny?

“I knew a man who went to sea
And left the shore behind him
I knew that man for he was me
And now I cannot find him”
You once sang me that song
On our way to the gym
I think it’s about a legless man
And how it was he could still swim

Where did we leave the glory
We’d fought so hard to win?
Perhaps God was insulted
And deemed it a sin
What is that condition
When we’re too scared to win?
But perhaps we can’t blame it on theories
The truth is we’re made of tin

Where did we leave those tablets
That got us through the night?
Who said we had a chance
And that we were in the right?
You know me so you know
When I glow in the light
I don’t give up till I’ve given my all
Although this time I just might

Why did you leave our story
Just when things had worked out?
Were you afraid to express
All of the things that you felt?
Well it snowed this Christmas
Alone I watched it melt
Then I toasted us with aged whiskey
Although our drink is stout

(C) Frank Howson 2019

WEEKENDS & HOBBIES & ROAST DINNERS

I was asked a few questions recently by a new friend that really had me thinking. Scrambling for answers actually, and aware of the long silence the enquirer was experiencing. In radio they call it “dead air.”

One question was “What do you do on the weekends?”

Yeah. What do I do on the weekends? I guess the question reminded me yet again to my embarrassment that I’m not a normal person. For you see, the answer, truthfully, is I don’t know what I do on weekends. I guess normal people have plans or a regular arrangement. Or habit. Or get-together. Or ritual. Me? Nothing. I go with the flow. Maybe see a movie if there’s something showing for the over-fourteen market. Maybe see a band or a friend performing? Maybe walk along the familiar memory-laden streets of St. Kilda down to the foreshore and watch people having fun in the sun. Or the overcast winter waves crashing in where Brookes’ Jetty used to stand. Maybe meet up with a friend for something to eat and a beer or wine depending on the mood. Although I can always be tempted to have a sublime cheesecake and a coffee at Monarch Cakes in Acland Street.

Sometimes people call in to see me unannounced. Surprise visits are nice, mostly, unless it’s the police and they have the wrong house!

Other times the luxury of just doing nothing and thinking nothing is like a holiday in the French Riviera. That nice warm feeling that grows nicer with the years of just being home, safe, relaxed and alive. Sometimes like the character in the song “Waterloo Sunset” it just feels right to sit and watch the world by my window.

One thing I have enjoyed doing for many years is going to the South Melbourne Market and joining the throng as we file in homage past all the delectable meat, fish, poultry, deli exotics, fresh bread, pastries, fruit and vegetables on display.

In my opinion, the Chinese hole-in-the-wall takeaway at the Cecil Street entrance sells the best spring rolls in the world. When I lived in Los Angeles and would come back to visit my son I’d always make the taxi from the airport stop en route here so I could quickly grab a couple to go, such was the extent I had missed them in La La Land. I guess part of that addiction was that they reminded me of being home.

I remember my Sundays in L. A too when I’d walk from West Hollywood to Century City Plaza, a long but very pleasant leisurely stroll that would end at the cineplex there to watch a new movie and then an hour browsing in the beautiful bookstore (actually all bookstores are beautiful to me) at the bottom of the escalators. One time I chatted to Donald Trump there as he sat signing copies of his then latest book and I wished him well.

So much of my life has been solitary for one reason or another and some times I feel that it’s God’s way for a creative person. Walking, observing, taking mental notes of odd things, thinking, daydreaming, trying to make sense of nonsense, etc.

Would I have preferred to have walked these steps with the person I loved? No doubt. But I have come to grips with the resolution that it was not written to be a part of my story, this time around. Only fleeting years of romance here and there. And now the sweet inner longing has taken on a somewhat beautiful warm glow of loss. And that glow fills many songs and scripts and stories of mine and in them love is reborn and remembered fondly now the scars have healed and left one with the exquisite taste of what will not come again. Perhaps. But such longings can be walked away if you have the right shoes.

The second question I was asked was, “Do you have a hobby?”

Again, I was stuck for an answer. Any answer. But thinking back I remembered as a child buying at the corner toy shop those boxes that contained lots of plastic pieces with glue included in order to fit all the pieces together and make my own replica planes. Normally World War 2 bombers.

I’d also sit in my bedroom as my parents berated each other and read The Adventures of Biggles, Robin Hood, Treasure Island and Johnny Yuma The Rebel.

When I lived in Fawkner Street I’d grab my football each late afternoon after school and walk out into the street in front of my house bouncing my football. You’d only need to bounce it for a minute or two and presto! You’d have a fellow team of boys all eager to grab the football and in their imagination kick the winning goal. Looking back, so much of what we had to make do with was exercising our creative imaginations.

Anyway, back to the question, “What do I do now for a hobby?” It made me a little sad to think that I don’t really have a hobby in the traditional meaning. Everything I do is in some way work related. I write. And the writing is my therapy in that it’s my way of making sense of things.

I go to movies. But even that is in a way work related. Same as going to a play or a musical.

I paint and sketch but that is something I have been doing most of my life but have only recently at the urging of others taken it seriously and have been grateful for a couple of successful exhibitions. I must admit that painting does relax my restless mind and soothe me more than anything else I do. But a hobby? Like going fishing? Not really. Or playing golf? Nah. I like to chat to people. My mum was a chatter person. I like to engage in conversation with others as I like to laugh, to quiz, to swap opinions, to stimulate thought, etc. Maybe that’s my hobby?

When I lived at my previous apartment it had a nice oven and I did like to make a roast lunch or dinner every Sunday and have people drop in for something to eat. I guess it reminded me of my own family when my mother and father were alive and Sundays were a very special day. My dad would be sober and in a great mood and he’d take it upon himself to cook the roast and all the trimmings. It was a sense of family as it should be, as it could be, and it made me feel whole and even as a young boy strangely blessed, appreciating it even at those tender years because perhaps I had an instinctive premonition that these times would rarely come to me again.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE DEAD AND THE DYING

The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.

It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.

We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.

I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Sketch by Frank Howson.